Voices Being Various

John Mole - 17 March 2006

One of the things I'm most enjoying about exploring the Poetry Archive is hearing all the different voices, how poems are 'pitched', the various regional accents and idioms, and in some cases ( as with Roger McGough's
'Funicular Railway' for example ) how an audience responds to a poet's sense of timing in performance. There's a fascinating historical perspective too. Listening to Yeats intone 'The Lake Isle of Innisfree', to Tennyson's strong
hint of a Lincolnshire accent, and even to Browning starting to gallop from memory through 'How They brought the Good News from Ghent to Aix' and then forgetting the words, is a wonderful way of bringing the past to life
through poetry.

Tony Harrison has pointed out that we really begin to hear Wordsworth's voice when we realise that for him, brought up in the Lake District, 'matter' and 'water' would have been full rhymes, and if you listen on the archive to Patricia Beer from the West Country you'll hear how distinctive her Devonian accent is and how it informs the cadences of her writing. She once wrote an interesting essay in which she explained that 'all poets, major and minor, write, as Eliot pointed out, in terms of their own voices. Somebody should read 'Ode to a Nightingale' aloud with a Cockney accent; perhaps somebody has.' She goes on to cite an example from her own work: 'In my poem 'The Fifth Sense' I am speaking of someone dangerously ill in hospital: 'Lamps burn all the night/ Here.' The tone was intended to be desolate and menacing. The wounded man was an innocent victim, and wanted to be at home. But when I hear myself reading it, with 'here' coming out like the 'yurr' on a Widecombe cream dish and so making the hospital sound a womb-like refuge, I can see that this is what I subconsciously felt.'

Like Patricia Beer I too come from the West Country ( Somerset ), though you probably wouldn't be able to tell from my 'received pronunciation', and the poet I'd most like to have heard is Thomas Hardy from Dorset. Although he died as late as 1928, he never recorded. Apparently he had a shrill, high-pitched voice ( which might have disappointed ) but I know that to have heard him read would have been an illuminating experience. To go back further in time, I wonder what poets you would most like to hear if the recording equipment had been available. Do, please, let us know even though, alas, we can do nothing about it!

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Glossary term

Haiku

A form of three lines with, respectively, 5, 7 and 5 syllables.